Our favorite criminal justice research of 2017

Useful and under-exposed research from 2017 that contributed to our movement's understanding of key issues in criminal justice.

by Lucius Couloute and Wanda Bertram, December 28, 2017

It’s been an important year for criminal justice research (you can visit our Research Clearinghouse for the most up-to-date work). And at the end of each year, we like to call attention to some of the most useful or under-exposed research contributing to our movement’s understanding of key issues in criminal justice. Here’s our list for 2017:

  • The Downstream Consequences of Misdemeanor Pretrial Detention
    Paul Heaton, Sandra Mayson & Megan Stevenson
    Stanford Law Review
    March 2017

    In this rigorous study, the authors find disturbing effects of pre-trial detention on both case outcomes and public safety. Detained misdemeanor defendants were more likely than similarly-situated releasees to plead guilty, more likely to be sentenced to jail, and they received longer jail sentences. Pretrial detention was also related to more future crime, contradicting the common bail-industry defense of money bail as a means of protecting communities. The importance of this study, detailed on our blog, can’t be overstated: it demonstrates that money bail actually increases risks to public safety, influences case outcomes in ways that contribute to more incarceration, and infringes on constitutional rights.
  • Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural America
    Vera Institute of Justice
    June 2017

    630,000 people are incarcerated in local jails across the country. Over the course of the last decade, though, the use of jails has declined in cities and grown in rural areas. In Out of Sight Vera Institute of Justice uses its Incarceration Trends data tool to detail this shift, shining a light on the changing landscape of mass incarceration.
  • Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect.
    Rob Voigta, Nicholas P. Camp, Vinodkumar Prabhakaran, William L. Hamilton, Rebecca C. Hetey, Camilla M. Griffiths, David Jurgens, Dan Jurafsky, and Jennifer L. Eberhardt
    June 2017

    New research out of Stanford University substantiates what Black America has always known – that police officers treat Blacks differently than they do whites. See the original report and our blog post about it.
  • Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood
    Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia J. Blake, and Thalia González
    Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality
    June 2017

    This important report expands previous research about bias against Black boys to find that adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5-14. Although under-explored, the “adultification” of Black girls has ramifications for both educational and justice system outcomes.
  • The Rise of the “Prosecutor Politician”: Database of Prosecutorial Experience for Justices, Circuit Judges, Governors, AGs, and Senators, 1880-2017
    Jed Shugerman
    July 2017

    Thanks to his groundbreaking new dataset, Fordham University historian Jed Shugerman has finally made it possible to examine the scale of prosecutors’ influence on American politics and justice throughout history. See the data, Jed Shugerman’s announcement, and our blog post and data visualization of Shugerman’s data.
  • A Matter of Time: The Causes and Consequences of Rising Time Served in America’s Prisons
    The Urban Institute
    July 2017

    States are rightly applauded for reducing sentences and expanding alternatives to prison for low-level offenders, but these reforms “won’t be enough” to end mass incarceration, says a July feature from the Urban Institute. For those not familiar with how sentencing for violent offenders has driven prison growth since the 1980s, this report presents perhaps the clearest and most accessible explanation to date. Visuals show how both the length of the longest prison terms and the number of people serving such terms have grown in 44 states (that is, every state for which data is available). The report urges state policymakers to wrestle with hard questions: “How long is too long? What is long enough? And do longer prison terms really translate into justice, rehabilitation, and public safety?”
  • Who Does Civil Asset Forfeiture Target Most?
    Nevada Policy Research Institute
    July 2017

    The short answer from this important study of civil asset forfeiture is that the practice targets poor people. Civil asset forfeiture is the controversial practice of allowing the police to seize property on the belief that the owner was involved in criminal activity. The police are not required to charge the owner with a crime, and the owner has to sue to get their property returned, so the police have an economic incentive to seize smaller sums from the poor rather than larger sums from people who could sue to get their property back.
  • The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City:
    The Cost and Consequences of High Incarceration Rate Neighborhoods in Worcester

    September 2017

    In an innovative report, MassInc reveals how incarceration is concentrated in particular Worcester Massachusetts neighborhoods. And in eight neighborhoods, over a million dollars per year is spent on incarcerating community members. MassInc also did a similar and even deeper report in 2016 about where incarcerated people are concentrated in Boston.
  • The Growth, Scope, And Spatial Distribution Of People With Felony Records in the United States, 1948 To 2010
    Sarah K.S. Shannon, Christopher Uggen, Jason Schnittker, Melissa Thompson, Sara Wakefield, Michael Massoglia
    September 2017

    Between 70 and 100 million people are estimated to have some kind of criminal record, but until now it’s been difficult to construct a current estimate of the number of people with felony convictions. New research from Sarah K. S. Shannon and colleagues fills that gap by providing historical and state-level estimates of the number of people with felony records (19 million in total), allowing researchers and policymakers to better understand the expansion of harsh criminalization across time, space, and racial groups. Along with the article, the authors have also provided appendices which include state-level tables by decade, useful for future research on mass criminalization.
  • Immigration Population Since the 1990s
    CrImmigration Blog
    September 2017

    The Department of Homeland Security holds tens of thousands of immigrants in civil detention centers every year, the exact number of which is not too difficult to come by (thanks in part to a DHS mandate that a minimum number of detention beds be full at all times). But how many immigrants are held in criminal facilities, such as federal prisons, and how much has this number grown? These data are much trickier to measure, but CrImmigration author César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández took up the challenge in September and found that immigrants in federal prisons have increased more than sevenfold in 25 years.
  • Punishment Is Not a “Service”: The injustice of pretrial conditions in Cook County
    Chicago Community Bond Fund
    October 2017

    By posting bail for poor defendants, the Chicago Community Bond Fund helps people avoid the harms of pretrial confinement, but their October report details how the pretrial system can ruin defendants’ lives even after they have posted bail. Under the pretext of “helping” defendants make their court dates, judges frequently subject them to electronic monitoring, mandatory check-ins, tight curfews and drug testing, intimidating defendants and setting them up to fail. CCBF profiles several of its own clients to make the case that restrictive pretrial requirements, far from being “services,” are “contributing to the criminalization of vulnerable communities” and “compounding racial inequity in the criminal legal system.”

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